According to the American Bar Association, there are more than one million lawyers in the United States, and this number will continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that this career field will grow by 9% by 2030. As a result, it’s no surprise that there are more than 100,000 students enrolled in law programs to secure their degrees and enter this growing and lucrative profession.
In the following guide, we spotlight this legal career, the professional outlook, and the steps you can take to begin your legal career as an attorney. Continue reading to see how you can jumpstart your career in the courtroom.
What Does a Lawyer Do?
Lawyers are licensed legal professionals who utilize their expertise and academic training to advise and represent clients in legal matters spanning from estate planning to criminal proceedings. Lawyers hold both an undergraduate diploma and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and complete the certification requirements necessary to secure their law license.
While most lawyers work for private law firms, these professionals can work as independent contractors and salaried employees for various businesses and governmental organizations.
Continue reading to learn more about this specialized career and the steps you can take to become a lawyer.
Lawyer Salary and Career Outlook
Beyond representing their clients in court, lawyers play a vital role in countless business settings. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that careers for lawyers may grow by as much as 9% between 2020 and 2030—this translates to the addition of over 71,000 jobs. Additionally, law school graduates can anticipate an estimated 46,000 job openings each year.
And while law school typically comes with hefty tuition rates, the BLS reports that the median income for lawyers in the U.S. earns nearly $128,000 annually. Attorneys fresh out of law school may not earn quite that much, but the highest 10% of lawyers earn more than $208,000 per year.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as a Lawyer
While there’s not a set list of attributes that point to enjoying a career as a lawyer, these professionals have a passion for their job in all its complexity and intellectual challenges. Additionally, the best lawyers have an abiding respect for the law and the ethics of their profession.
We highlight some traits common to standout lawyers below:
- Strong communication skills
- Ability to listen
- Critical thinking
- Strong writing skills
- Creative and analytical thinking
- Attention to detail
Steps to Becoming a Lawyer
Because lawyers must complete an accredited law degree and pass the BAR, there’s a pretty standard academic path that the vast majority of students take to jumpstart their legal career. Keep reading as we highlight some common steps students take to become a lawyer.
Step One: Earn An Education
Students interested in a career as an attorney can expect to spend at least seven years in a higher education environment. Undergraduates must secure a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and law students must complete their JD degree from a program accredited by the American Bar Association.
Undergraduates can pursue any number of degrees. In addition to pre-law degrees in legal studies, academic performance during your bachelor’s degree is dramatically more important than what degree you secure. Popular bachelor’s degrees for future lawyers include English, history, philosophy, political science, or business administration.
Law schools look for prospective students who have honed essential reading, writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills that prepare students for law school.
Step Two: Complete an Internship and Hone Your Skills
When preparing to apply to law school, prospective law students should do all they can to beef up their resumes. Completing an internship at a law firm or a law-related organization clearly shows that you’re serious about a law career. Additionally, volunteer work and other extracurricular activities can help you stand out from the pool of applicants.
Step Three: Take The LSAT
In addition to undergraduate performance and your resume, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a significant component of the law school admission process. Over 100,000 students complete this challenging exam, and your score directly impacts whether or not you gain admission into desired programs.
Scores for the LSAT span from 120 to 180, with average scores typically falling around 150. According to the Princeton Review, the LSAT is broken into five sections and covers competencies in areas like logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension. These test also includes a variable section and a writing sample.
Step Four: Apply to Law School
The majority of grad school application deadlines typically fall annually between October and December, and many programs utilize rolling admissions that typically benefit earlier applicants.
Law school applicants submit a fully-completed application and include essential documents like official undergraduate transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, resume, and a personal statement outlining academic and career goals.
Step Five: Graduate from Law School
Students typically complete their JD degree in about three years. In addition to gaining a deep understanding of foundational legal knowledge, degree-seekers often tailor their degree through specializations in areas like business law, corporate law, family law, patent law, and tax law.
Core law school classes often include topics such as civil procedure, constitutional law, property law, criminal law and procedure, and legal research and writing. According to accrediting guidelines laid out by the American Bar Association, students must complete a minimum of 83 credits before securing their Juris Doctor degree.
Alongside standard coursework, law students often tackle summer associate positions at various law firms. This provides them with both hands-on experience and valuable networking opportunities. Additionally, some top-performing students secure federal judicial clerkships.
Step Five: Pass the BAR
Earning your law degree is a critical part of the process, but graduates must successfully complete the bar exam in the jurisdiction in which they plan to practice. State bar examinations have a reputation for being especially challenging, and law school grads should set aside ample time to prepare. Graduates can utilize study groups, bar prep materials, and courses dedicated to bar exam preparation.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Lawyer?
Students on an accelerated track can complete the necessary academic requirements to become a lawyer in about seven years. That said, the time it takes to become a lawyer can vary significantly between students. First, a high school graduate must earn a bachelor’s degree before applying to law school. For full-time students, a bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete.
Once you gain admission into a JD program, most students can expect their program to last about three years. After graduating from a JD program, students can complete their bar examinations. Successful completion of the bar exam means that an individual has completed all the necessary requirements to practice law in their specified jurisdiction.
Lawyers typically utilize specialized legal knowledge to advise and represent various clients. Attorneys hold many responsibilities in their professional capacity with standard tasks, including conducting legal research, preparing and filing legal documents, and interpreting laws for their clients.
“Lawyer” and “attorney” are used interchangeably as the name for licensed legal professionals. These professionals utilize specialized legal knowledge gained through years of academic work.
Individuals with a bachelor’s degree can complete their Juris Doctor (JD) degree in about three years. Once they secure their JD diploma, law school grads must complete their relevant bar exam before entering professional practice.
The only academic prerequisite for law school admission is a bachelor’s degree. While popular degrees include subjects like history, political science, and pre-law, law schools enroll graduates with a diversity of academic disciplines.